New reports of confirmed coronavirus infections in babies are raising questions about how the novel virus can be transmitted. Two newborns tested positive for coronavirus Wednesday, with one being diagnosed shortly after birth, prompting questions about the possibilities of mother-to-infant infection. Both babies are reported to be in stable condition, according to ABC News.
The youngest confirmed cases of coronavirus infections are said to have occurred in two babies recently born in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. According to CNN, a report from China's state broadcaster CCTV said one newborn was only 30 hours at the time of their diagnosis. The baby's mother was reportedly diagnosed with coronavirus prior to their birth, prompting questions about whether or not the virus can be transmitted either in utero or during childbirth. It is not clear how old the second baby is.
While China state news outlets have raised concerns about intrauterine infection and mother-child transmission of the novel coronavirus, experts told The Guardian that such transmission is uncommon for such respiratory illnesses. "As far as I am aware there is currently no evidence that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted in the womb," University of East Anglia professor in medicine, Paul Hunter, told the U.K. news outlet. "If a baby does get infected with coronavirus a few days after birth we currently cannot tell if the baby was infected in the womb or during birth."
According to The Guardian, some viruses can be passed on through what's known as a vertical transmission. This occurs when a pathogen or disease-causing agent is transmitted from mother to child before, during, or immediately after birth. Such transmissions can occur through the placenta, breast milk, or simply through the close contact of birth and/or nursing. To be clear, however, it remains unclear when and how either of the newborns recently diagnosed with the coronavirus contracted the virus.
"It's more likely that the baby contracted the virus from the hospital environment, the same way healthcare workers get infected by the patients they treat," Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, told Business Insider. "It's quite possible that the baby picked it up very conventionally — by inhaling virus droplets that came from the mother coughing."
Although more than 28,000 people have reportedly been infected with the coronavirus globally, the BBC has reported that infections in children remain very few. A recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) echoed a similar message, noting that the median age of coronavirus patients fell between 49 and 56 and that "cases in children have been rare."